Horrific FB post leads to cat abuse investigation at Lehi brickyard
Lehi, Utah —
UPDATE: Utah Refractory said it made contact with Ashley at Best Friends.
(KUTV) An investigation into animal abuse allegations is underway at Utah Refractories after a veteran employee blew the whistle on the Lehi brick building plant. He shot footage of tortured cats that went viral on Facebook.
Kent Francom has worked at Utah Refractory for three decades. He says a feral cat colony has been growing for years and his bosses wanted employees to help control the population.
"I guess that meant at any cost," Francom said. "Missing an eyeball, I've seen cats dragging their hind legs behind them. I've come into a poisoning ... They've been drowned. They've been shot. I'm not good with that."
The owner of the business said by phone the cat problem is not only detrimental to their livelihood, but could also pose a potential health risk.
The owner explained the company uses material similar to sand to make brick. He believed cats were using their product as a litter box, and also expressed concern for the untamed animals being around dangerous heavy machinery.
Utah County Sgt. Spencer Cannon said, "It's a bit of a hazard, but it's probably more an annoyance than it is that."
The owner said he wanted the cats gone, and did ask employees to help.
Francom contacted a family friend, Bobbi Anthony, a volunteer with experience in trap, neuter, release programs, or TNR.
TNR programs are generally the recommended way to control feral cat populations.
After one trip, Francom and Anthony helped save more than a dozen animals. However, the owner later forbid Anthony from returning.
The owner told 2News he was prohibiting Anthony from running the program on his property because she was uninsured and it was a liability for the company.
"I just want to see the cats safely removed by a professional who is insured," he said.
Since the initial TNR visit, the owners have not had a professional animal removal service on site.
"I rescued as many as I could. It's enough. How man need to die? How many need to be tortured?" Francom said with misty eyes.
Francom and Anthony were disappointed the business had not tried other humane means of controlling the cat population, so they turned to social media for help.
"I just gotta stand up for what I believe in," Francom said. "Something had to be done. And if no one else will step forward, I guess I'm the one that's got to sacrifice everything."
Francom is currently on a 30-day suspension from Utah Refractories for refusing a drug test. Francom believed he was targeted, and said he refused on principal.
"Never in 30 years have I had to take a drug test. Then all of a sudden this cat stuff comes up, and I'm pulled in to take one," he said. "Even after this 30 day suspension, how I could go back? I feel so alone in this whole thing. Feels like my whole life's been tipped upside down."
Since Anthony posted Francom's footage on Facebook, the owner said he, his family, and employees have been receiving threats. The owner asked, for his safety, to not be identified by name.
Anthony has since posted a message discouraging the public intimidation and threats.
"Have higher ethics than what they've shown," she asked of Facebook users.
Utah County Sheriff's Office is continuing the investigation. If they are able to confirm these allegations, the people responsible could face felony animal abuse charges.
The owner said he has been contacting Best Friends Animal Shelter since Monday. Best Friends said it has not received communication at their office or directly to the TNR service manager.
2News contacted Best Friends and is arranging for free TNR services at the location. Stay tuned on this developing story.